General synthesis & sound design resources

This is a topic for resources (books, articles, movies, radio discussions, etc) that discuss general principles and techniques of synthesis while remaining mostly device/software/manufacturer/programming language agnostic. Looking to aggregate general information that can be implemented in a variety of projects.

Please include a short note on the resource if you can as well.

[Edited to move links to the SoS Synth Secrets into the body of the topic]


I know these have made the rounds. They have been very useful for me.

Spin’s Knowledge Base on Effects:

Advanced Programming Techniques for Modular Synthesizers:


just found/read these this morning during research

they link to other helpful resources too


Gordon Reid’s epic Sound on Sound Series Synth Secrets starts with the raw basics of sound and moves along progressively into complicated areas such as synthesizing a convincing piano sound. If you feel lost when people start getting technical while talking about synthesizing, going through this series will help you understand what’s going on. It’s also written in an easy style and with a little humor to keep it from feeling dry.

If you’re new to synthesis or sound design I recommend starting at the beginning as he often builds on concepts discussed in previous articles. Reading article 63 first won’t kill you though.

Also, while I personally have little interest in recreating a Hammond organ he uses these practical sound projects to advance into other areas (like creative delay uses) which do interest me. Similarly, he invokes specific synthesizers as examples of different technology affordances and those articles are useful even if you don’t have access to the specific synth.

  1. What’s in a sound?
  2. The physics of percussion
  3. Modifiers and controllers
  4. Of filters & phase relationships
  5. Further with phase relationships
  6. Of responses and resonance
  7. Envelopes, gates, and triggers
  8. More about envelopes
  9. An introduction to VCAs
  10. Modulation
  11. Amplitude modulation
  12. An introduction to frequency modulation
  13. More on frequency modulation
  14. An introduction to additive synthesis
  15. An introduction to ESPs and vocoders
  16. From sample & hold to sample-rate converters (1)
  17. From sample & hold to sample-rate converters (2)
  18. Priorities and triggers
  19. Duophony
  20. Introducing polyphony
  21. From polyphony to digital synths
  22. From springs, plates, & buckets to physical modeling
  23. Formant synthesis
  24. Synthesizing wind instruments
  25. Synthesizing brass instruments
  26. Brass synthesis on a Minimoog
  27. Roland SH1 & Arp Axxe brass synthesis
  28. Synthesizing plucked strings
  29. The theoretical acoustic guitar patch
  30. A final attempt to synthesize guitars
  31. Synthesizing percussion
  32. Practical percussion synthesis: Timpani
  33. Synthesizing drums: The bass drum
  34. Practical bass drum synthesis
  35. Synthesizing drums: The snare drum
  36. Practical snare drum synthesis
  37. Analyzing metalic percussion
  38. Synthesizing realistic cymbals
  39. Practical cymbal synthesis
  40. Synthesizing bells
  41. Synthesizing cowbells and claves
  42. Synthesizing pianos
  43. Synthesizing pianos on the Roland JX10 (part 1)
  44. Synthesizing pianos on the Roland JX10 (part 2)
  45. Synthesizing pianos on the Roland JX10 (part 3)
  46. Synthesizing strings: string machines
  47. Synthesizing strings: PWM and string sounds
  48. Synthesizing bowed strings: the violin family
  49. Practical bowed-string synthesis
  50. Practical bowed-string synthesis (continued)
  51. Articulation and bowed-string synthesis
  52. Synthesizing pan pipes
  53. Synthesizing simple flutes
  54. Practical flute synthesis
  55. Synthesizing tonewheel organs: Part 1
  56. Synthesizing tonewheel organs: Part 2
  57. Synthesizing Hammond organ effects
  58. Synthesizing the rest of the Hammond organ: Part 1
  59. Synthesizing the rest of the Hammond organ: Part 2
  60. From analogue to digital effects
  61. Creative synthesis with delays
  62. More creative synthesis with delays
  63. The secret of the big red button

This site has great resources if you are interested in synthesizing bells…

This manual for a software synth has an interesting section on Programming Drum sounds that can be applied to other synths (page 25…29)

This book written for the Yamaha SY77 has a lot of general synth programming information…


Curtis Roads has written or contributed to many really great books on granular synthesis and beyond. I return often to his 2001 book Microsound which is really deep dive into granular synthesis and related techniques. It takes a recipe-like approach for lots of the material covered and is very practical to pick up and find some interesting directions to play with.

He also edited The Music Machine which is an amazing collection of articles from out of print issues of Computer Music Journal. Section V of the book is focused on synthesis and covers some of the first writings and original research on physical modeling, an overview of most standard forms of synthesis, and esoteric stuff like warped linear prediction.

He’s made a number of individual articles available on his website too.

Computer Music Journal is an endless resource for interesting research in synthesis. If you are lucky enough to have a JSTOR account every back issue is available there digitally, otherwise you can buy access to just CMJ back issues via JSTOR for something like ~$30 for a few months. (Your library might have access too.)

Also, if you find something in CMJ that looks interesting, google it. It’s not uncommon for the original author to post the article for free on their personal site.

I’ve found F. Richard Moore’s Elements of Computer Music and Gareth Loy’s Musimathics books incredibly useful as well, but they have a broader scope including stuff like acoustics and DSP fundamentals.

Last but not least I was about to write how difficult it is to track down but it looks like Trevor Wishart has made his amazing Audible Design book available as a free PDF download on his website!! This book is an incredible resource and the introduction of the microsound technique of waveset synthesis among other really interesting and creative approaches to sound synthesis you aren’t likely to find anywhere else.


I have a copy of Real Sound Synthesis for Interactive Applications by Perry Cook which I got in college and still turn to. It strikes a good balance between expaining and motivating the theory, and prioritizing what’s actually practical to build.

Also, the same author co-wrote STK, and many of the textbook’s exampes have matching implementations in that library. STK is written to be platform-agnostic and long-lived, so even if you aren’t interested in one particular programming language or environment, it’s usually worth a read under the hood to see how these things can be implemented in practice.


Hi all,

This is also a good resource:

Sound Synthesis and Sampling, Third Edition - Islington Music Workshop by M.Russ.

Easily found online free with a Google search.

Also Patch and Tweak is a fun, glossy…

There are so many more …



Daphne Oram’s book An Individual Note published by Anomie Academic and the Daphne Oram Trust is available online and can also be ordered from your favorite bookstore. It is a very process-oriented and fun conceptual approach to sound design and music. It’s good for people who like thinking philosophically about music as much as the technology etc.

Here is the table of contents of the recent re-publication:

  • Introduction by Sarah Angliss
  1. Music, Sound and Electronics – muse – capacitor/resistor – musical composition – tensioned energy – time scale – flash – Mozart – analogy – scientist/artist – pendulum – capacitor/inductor – tuned circuit – current flow – Montaigne – Elec – Cele – transduce – life/death – Pakau – consciousness of being
  2. Hertz – radiation – reception – sine wave – squaring – symmetry – Fourier – amplitudes – recipes – timbre – transient – envelope – harmonic series – human wavepattern – cell tension – hydrogen oscillations – white noise – bandwidths – formants – personal regions of resonance
  3. Development by formant control – intermodulation – non-linear – ring modulator – 440/600Hz – 587/600Hz – brain scan – amplitude outline of sum and difference frequencies – clusters – indecipherable – St Paul – unfathomable complexity
  4. Complexity – 543/600Hz – closeness – 200/600Hz – harmonic relationship – shifting formants – art – inhibition/excitation – tightrope – insanity – drugs – expansion/contraction – squaring – excess overtones – spark – white noise – madness
  5. Arts – induced resonances – Matthew Passion – celetal – form – individuality – preconceived ideas – coal fire – reflection of life – serialism – aleatoricism – performer/composer – 21st century
  6. Tape recording – bar magnets – canvas – painting – splicing – control of playback and record – overload – tape feedback – echoes – New Atlantis – response time – brain feedback – individuality – control of energy – external stimulus/internal reasoning – feminine thinking – serenity – truthful observation
  7. Memory – re-recording – feedback storage – retrieval – reinforcement – multiple storage areas – sympathetic induction – rationalizing department – colouration – speed – celeritas – space/time – solid/fluid – Robert McNamara – unrolled feedback – self oscillation – overload into silence – shock – musical shock – transducing thoughts – different angles – stark reality – wider variants
  8. Psychiatric treatment – control of energy – musical energy – small sector – run riot – memory storage – Samuel Coleridge – integrity of control – insanity – outsanity – supersanity – noise level – sleep – memory sorting – dreams and nightmares – rationalised echoes – modern music – hieroglyphics – validity or mush – β€˜do-it-yourself-psychiatry’
  9. Analysis/synthesis – Alexander Pope – chance – car journey – boundaries of control – digital computer – random number – rules – indeterminacy regulated towards individuality – quality of individual note – types of computer music – voltage control – digitalise sound – ear’s requirements – time – money – intricate individual aspects – human beings/government control – processed
  10. Interpretation – computer – new channel for direct control – Nineteen Eighty-Four ideas – humanising factors – painting and photography – freehand – feedback link – empirical – control – singing – subtle interplay of parameters – individual interpretation – clues for humanising the machine – specification for music machine
  11. Machine with humanising factors – notation – separation of parameters – envelope shapes – volume – analogue – timbre – freehand drawings – blend of timbres – within the note – pitch – digital – neumes – open strings – fingerboard – steady state – fatigue – analogue pitch – vibrato – reverberation – partial indeterminacy – visual account of the music – monitoring feedback – β€˜inner’ ear – erasing – human factors – convey individuality – musarian – Oramics
  12. Synthesizing sound – internationally – catalogue – classical electronic studios – other systems – synthesizers – books of technical details – development of compositional techniques – vital essence of music indescribable – present judgements irrelevant in fifty years – inventions – Edison – phonograph – inventions rarely singular achievement – Charles Cros – fusion of music, sound and electronics – Bacon – Cahill – microtonal structures – trace influences of Webern and others – Wagner/Pierre Dietsch – excitement of individual exploration
  13. Outlet – mismatching – distortion, destruction, dissipation – students – mirror of ourselves – impedance – musical outlets – creativity through individuality – Koenig – tuning fork – influence of resonator – human tuned circuit – death spark transmission – celetal wavepattern – resonance – entropy – energize many β€˜vessels’ – individuality balancing entropy – basic pulsation – β€˜at oneness’
  14. Humanising – no panacea – scanning waveband – modes of thought – celetal, beyond the sphere of words – outside time – art and science meet – transduce the celetal in the future – Persephone – Eleusis – Celeus
  • Appendix: New Atlantis
  • Appendix: Suggestions for Listening
  • Appendix: Selected Compositions by Daphne Oram
  • Appendix: The Oramics Machine

I gotta say, just the chapter names make great song titles.


Requesting a good guide / technical note on gain-staging for live and recorded modular.

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This sounds amazing! Great recommendations so far :heart_eyes:


Adding to the bookmarks here:


That is an awesome series of videos! I wish I had seen it much earlier in my synth journey. There is actually a 3rd part:

I would also want to add the Syntorial software: it has a bunch of practical examples, little quizzes, etc. It focuses more on the practical side of synthesis, sound design by ear. It does explain each part of a synth in detail though.It’s a paid product but you get like the first 100 lessons in the demo.


Someone who isn’t me has access to a university library and is curious if anyone can recommend -or wants access to - writing about synthesis, music, etc… I’ve spent the morning reading patents for time base correctors and thought i should see if anyone has any requests for journals or books that might be harder to find!

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The DAFx book edited by Udo ZΓΆlzer is a good intro to many concepts. Some libraries have ebook access to it.


For those that don’t know, there is a web scrape of Synth Secrets hosted on github, converted to markdown format.

EDIT: no images/diagrams from the looks of it.


Here is my wishlist of books to get at some point (and some that I already have, but haven’t seen on this topic):
Alex Ross - The rest is noise
Andy Farnell - Desining sound
Brian Kane - Sound Unseen - Acousmatic Sound in Theory and Practice
Christoph Cox - all/any of his books
Curtis Roads - all/any of his books
Edward Pearsall - Twentieth century music - Theory and practice
Ernst Krenek - Modern music is unpopular
Brian Ferneyhoug - Collected writings
Ferrucio Busoni - Sketch of a new esthetic of music
Harry Partch - Genesis of a music
John Chalmers - Divisions of a tetrachord
Larry Austin - Source music of the avantgarde
Miller Puckette - The Theory and Technique of Electronic Music
Nicolas Slonimsky - Thesaurus of musical scales an pattens
Pascal Quignard - The hatred of music
Pierre Schaeffer - all/any of his books

Some of these are more contemporary classical music oriented, also theory books, but I still think they apply to the topic and might be interesting to folks.


I’d throw in Tara Rodgers’ Pink Noises and Jennie Gottschalk’s Experimental music since 1970 (great section on technology in that book).


Hi all! I’m currently doing research in synthesis types right now, and want to get a better understanding of the more current interesting ideas in sound synthesis. I’ve become pretty familiar with the most popular synthesis methods (subtractive, additive, FM, wavetable, granular, etc) and have explored some other methods like vector synthesis, but it’s been difficult to find a collection of resources on more experimental techniques while searching around as they get buried by larger/more commercial projects, or locked behind expensive academic journals.

Some stuff I’ve found interesting is the Segmod project from a couple years ago, and this mass interaction physical modeling project. I know that digital methods like FM, wavetable, granular, and physical modeling still have so much potential in new techniques too, so I’m not necessarily excluding those either if there’s something interesting!

That said, does anyone have any good accessible resources on where to search for these kinds of things? Or good examples?

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